Airline tech in the wings

Mineta's Jan. 16 speech

Airlines were expected to rely heavily on low-tech solutions when they began screening all checked baggage for explosives Jan. 18, but they'll be rolling out high-tech scanners and other technology as the year unfolds.

At first, airlines will choose from a menu of approved options that include bag matching, hand searches and bomb-sniffing dogs to comply with the congressionally mandated deadline, senior Transportation Department officials said.

High-tech scanners that can detect explosives are the next line of defense, with the agency planning to buy 2,200 more machines to cover the nation's 429 commercial airports. But DOT is considering other options, Secretary Norman Mineta said in a Jan. 16 speech during the Transportation Research Board's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"We are looking at a wide variety of innovative approaches using technology, different ways to run the check-in pro.cess and procurement strategies that can get us to the goal," Mineta said.

The options are varied. "The airlines can take any tack they want to comply with the regulations," said Cathy Cromley, spokeswoman for Secure Computing Corp. United Air Lines Inc. is considering Secure Computing to be the provider of the firewall technology for its screening system.

Biometrics — which uses techniques such as facial recognition, fingerprinting and eye scans — and smart cards have been brought up in hearings as possibilities.

Although technologies are still being examined, the high-tech industry has secured at least one role. Under a newly established senior adviser program, executives from private companies including Intel Corp. and Solectron Corp. have volunteered to help get the new Transportation Security Administration up and running.

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